His family had traveled to Honduras a few days ahead of their church’s team, combining a family vacation with a mission trip to share the Gospel, reach out to orphans, and build a storm shelter for the local church.
Aaron had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to what God had in store for the next season of his life.
As the day began to fade, he took a kayak out into the bay to the same spot his brother and he had paddled the previous day. He went to meet God in the sunset, watching the light settle like liquid gold on the water. When the orange sky began to darken, he turned back toward shore.
But this day, the wind had strengthened and the current was a fierce opponent.
As an experienced kayaker, he wasn’t concerned until the vessel flipped and the ocean confiscated his paddle. He managed to get back in the boat and tried to yell for help, but the wind stole his words.
The current dragged him back around the reef and swung him to the other side.
He could see flashing lights from boats just around the corner and reasoned they came from a search-and-rescue team. So close and yet so far away. As the darkness closed in, he drifted farther and farther away from the island and his family.
Back on the island the family marshaled their forces using social media.
Facebook carried the news of the son who was lost, and the bits and bytes crisscrossed the world, as those who knew the family–and even more who didn’t–dropped to their knees to pray.
Back home, their church flung open the doors to the sanctuary and members began to fast, interceding for Aaron and pleading with God for a miracle.
Out on the ocean, the black of the night slowly smothered Aaron and terror began to set in. He yelled at God, wondering if He was listening.
But the panic was short-lived as his faith fought its way back to the surface.
He resolutely determined that if this was the end of his life, he wanted to go out with an attitude of worship, no matter the situation.
He began to sing “Amazing Grace,” and almost immediately experienced the peace that passes all understanding. Realizing the situation was completely out of his control, he knew the only thing he could do was trust God. He called to mind Paul’s words, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But he wasn’t ready to be done and he begged God for another chance.
At times, the kayak braved 15-foot waves. The blisters on his hands told the story of how he clung to the vessel and held on to hope during the coldest, darkest night of life. The waves eventually calmed, with timing that synced to the specific prayers for heaven to rein in earth on this matter.
As morning began to dawn, the sunrise put the sunset to shame and he could see a faint smudge of land in several directions.
And then it happened. The most beautiful sound. The drone of an airplane circling the waters, searching for him.
Four times the plane appeared on the horizon and four times it disappeared into the distance. Aaron yelled and waved his arms to no avail. The thought of being that close to being found and missing the opportunity was unbearable. And with each time the plane came and went, he thought that it could be the last one he saw.
The family updated their status and petitioned for the prayers to continue. Aaron’s dad posted:
“There are now 2 planes, a helicopter and several boats looking for Aaron. No sighting at this time. Thank you all for your prayers and the outpouring of love. Today, I have more questions than answers but this I know. God is Good and I trust him…”
Two minutes later, the next status update carried the words all who were following had been praying to hear:
“They FOUND HIM!!! Praise GOD”
Back out on the water, the plane was circling a fifth time, a helicopter was summoned, and Aaron broke down in tears for the first time.
Later, as they began to piece together the events, the authorities estimated Aaron had drifted 40-50 miles during those 15 hours. Six other times, this kind of drama had turned into a tragedy. Aaron was the first to be found and brought back after drifting away from this island.
Aaron’s dad ended that night with this assessment:
“Today we witnessed a miracle. Heaven and earth cooperated for an amazing outcome. We are eternally grateful!! Our son was lost but now he’s found. He was feared dead but confirmed alive! Praise the Lord.”
Those who knew of the family’s plans to join the mission team asked if they would stay in Honduras or come back home. They stayed. They led worship the following Sunday and praised like never before.
I’m mesmerized by so many aspects of this story: the miracle, the power of prayer, the family’s faith, and Aaron’s witness of the God who stayed with him through the night.
I’m also struck by the juxtaposition.
Aaron went to serve the lost and discovered what it means to be found.
The parents went to tend to the orphans and spent hours wondering if they would ever hold their own child again.
The family went to minister, but ended up being ministered to by a world of fellow believers through the bond of prayer.
Aaron paddled out to see God’s handiwork
in the colorful, warm sunset,
but it was in the black, cold night
where he experienced God’s hand.
And this is where I draw two lessons:
1) Testimonies are produced and witnesses are formed in the storms of life
Jesus plainly stated:
“If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
We are tempted to gloss over that part of the call. As we lift our hands to heaven and feel the warm glow on our face, we pledge to follow and ask to lead, requesting an assignment and ministry. “I’m in the Lord’s army,” as the child’s Sunday School song goes.
But being in the army requires time in boot camp. And for a Christian offering his service to Christ, the trials and valleys and dark nights of the soul are his preparation.
In boot camp, boys become soldiers. Through fiery ordeals, Christians become witnesses.
Aaron’s own words speak to a desire to be shaped and used by God.
For someone who has a heart to go seek the lost, I cannot imagine a more profound footing than this.
“Being found was one of the most incredible moments of my life,” he stated. He now knows what it is like to be so close to being rescued–to see the lights in the distance–and yet be left in the dark.
He is forever changed. I dare say he never would have chosen this experience. I dare say he may never be able to say, “I would do it again.”
But it produced a testimony and it turned a young man into a witness.
The most compelling sermon is a life that preaches of God’s goodness, even when life is NOT good.
2) Even when you have more questions than answers, God is still good.
When stories like this turn out with the ending the world is hoping for, the natural response is to celebrate God’s faithfulness and proclaim His goodness.
But there won’t always be a helicopter. And God is still good. And God is still faithful.
We can all learn much from Aaron’s resolve:
When 15-foot breakers roll into our lives, and everything else is beyond our control, we are still in charge of our own response to the storm.
And if these are indeed the waves that will take us under never to return, then may we go out with an attitude of worship.
If Aaron had not been delivered to the arms of his parents, he would have landed in the arms of His Savior:
“I know now, and I knew then, that my relationship with Christ is strong enough to keep me safe through death.”
The words of his parents, even before Aaron was found, proclaimed an unwavering faith in the God of the universe who was worthy to be trusted.
Whether you are currently in the middle of the storm or standing on the shore basking in the sun’s glow, I challenge you to stop and let the message of this story settle into your soul.
Decide now how you will respond. Proclaim what you know to be true and remind yourself that you serve an unchanging God who is never undone and never out of options.
And even if you never understand why …
If you never have enough answers to your questions …
And if you never get the miracle or happy ending you are pleading for this side of heaven …
You can choose to say, as did Aaron’s parents:
“This I know. God is good. And I trust Him.”
Note: Aaron’s story is used by his permission.
Combat feelings of discouragement and brokenness with survival-grade faith.